Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Deliver Us From Evil (2006)

(Image from IMP Awards)

Deliver Us From Evil (2006)

'Deliver Us From Evil' is a documentary that tells the story of child abuser priest Oliver O'Grady, and how the Catholic Church attempted to cover up his activities by moving him from parish to parish during the 1970s and 80s. It does this by presenting three different perspectives. One perspective presents the stories of several of O'Grady's many victims and their families via often emotional interviews. Another recounts the activities of the clergy using witness accounts and recordings of depositions given by various, often very senior, members of the US Catholic Church (they declined to participate in the documentary). Third, and perhaps most interestingly, are interviews with Father O'Grady himself, living freely in Ireland and being incredibly candid about what he did and about the Church's complicity in allowing him to get away with it. Interspersed are various interviews with other involved parties such as lawyers and psychologists.

O'Grady is really the most intriguing part of this film - the man is disarmingly charming and engaging, and it's easy to see see how he took people in and worked his way into their confidence. He shows absolutely no remorse for what he did and describes his actions in a calm and collected manner, and sometimes even presents himself as a victim, describing his 'indulgences' in much the same way an alcoholic might describe giving in to drink - in his mind the kids were temptations dangling before him. He's clearly disturbed, but given that he knew at least on an intellectual level that what he did was monstrous it's impossible to feel any kind of sympathy for him, even when certain revelations about his past are made that may explain his actions. And there are some moments, such as where he sits down and writes ridiculously patronizing letters of apology to his victims, that make you want to just punch him in the face.

The true villain of the piece, however, is the weaselly Church, as can be seen in the accumulated evidence and the deposition videos where various members of the clergy try to conjure up excuses and fail miserably; the dishonesty is written all over them. The segments involving the victims describe how O'Grady earned the trust and respect of their families and the ways in which he abused them; they also explain how the families felt betrayed by both him and the Church, an anger that lives on because their lives are in many ways still in tatters so many years later. Many of the interviews are quite emotional and serve as a strong counterpoint to O'Grady's cheerful, nonchalant countenance, constantly serving to remind the viewer of the gravity of what he did and the inherent injustice in the fact that he gets to live his life as a free man.

This may be a documentary, but it's far from the bland 'talking heads' style that the presence of an abundance of interviews might suggest. There's a strong visual style, with varied camera angles and establishing shots being used judiciously. The editing is also well done, and the film is structured as a pseudo-narrative that builds up towards a dramatic payoff of sorts. There are strong musical choices as well, somber and appropriate.

Taken at face value 'Deliver Us From Evil' doesn't offer anything new in terms of facts, but it presents them very effectively and provides faces and a human element that transcends those facts and turns them into a real punch to the gut. Watching this, one can't help but feel sympathy for the victims and their families while also feeling a fascinated kind of loathing towards the perpetrator of the horrendous crimes that caused so much suffering. Above all, however, this is a film should make anyone (apart from the brainwashed) who sees it feel nothing but contempt and unbridled anger towards the cruel, exploitative institution that let it all happen while turning a blind eye, and subsequently tried to cover it up when the shit hit the fan.

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